Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Why Collect at all?

Reading back my previous post on my collecting goals for 2019 got me thinking about not just what to collect, but also why I collect. I wrote the previous as a checklist of collecting that I wanted to accomplish. After reading my checklist, I thought more about why those particular goals are important to me.

Collecting is expensive and time consuming. It can also be bewildering with the amount of options. A common mantra in this hobby is to collect what you like, but often it feels like there are so many choices that it is difficult to determine what you like, or at least what you like more than other things you can do with that money. And that is only limiting this to collecting sports cards, not too mention other things you can spending your money on. For instance, I also enjoy collecting video games and comics, as I mentioned in my collecting goals for 2019. The question becomes not to collect what you like, but if you like something enough so that a dollar spent on that item brings more joy than a dollar spent on a nearly infinite amount of alternatives. The amount of alternatives can be nearly paralyzing.

That is also just limiting the scope of this discussion to collecting memorabilia and pop culture ephemera. When you expand the scope of this discussion to include all facets of fandom beyond just collecting, you get into the problem of not just spending the finite resource that is money, but also the finite resource that is time. For instance, I don't just enjoy collecting stuff. I also actually watch baseball and hockey. I also watching UFC and boxing. And I play video games, read comics, read books, listen to music, and watch television and movies. Between real commitments like work and family, it is impossible to find time for all types of fandom I may be interested in.

The funny thing about fandom in 2019 is how fragmented it is. With sports cards as an example, collecting sports card is significantly less popular than it was when I was a kid if we use industry revenue as a gauge of popularity. Look at how big card collecting was in the early nineties compared to now. Far more people were involved. But, on the other hand, the people who are involved in collecting cards in 2019 are as passionate as the people who collected nearly thirty years ago. The difference is that the collector base is smaller, yet the remaining collectors spend more and more money, which is how you end up these days with so many premium products being released by the card companies.

That's not just with cards. Comics are the same way. Everyone knows what comic books are. Not many people buy them. Another example is pro wrestling. I grew up a huge fan of wrestling. But the market for that form entertainment is getting smaller. However, the smaller group of people that spend money on cards, comics, wrestling, or whatever, are spending larger amounts of money per person than in the past when more people were involved. That's how fandom has become fragmented; companies are servicing a smaller group of fans are who more willing to spend higher amounts of money than a larger group of more mainstream people.

In fact, fandom is so fragmented that I could live nearly my entire life devoted to fandom without experiencing much of the "real" world. For instance, let's say I love the Toronto Blue Jays to the point where I want to spend all of my leisure time doing things that somehow involve the Jays, like watching games, collecting cards, reading news, talking with other fans, etc. I could do that. I could literally spend every leisure hour and every leisure dollar I have just on the Toronto Blue Jays. I can set my phone up to receive only news about the Jays, ignoring any other news that may have an impact on my daily life. I can subscribe only to television and streaming services that feature content relating to the Jays, or focus only on YouTube and other online video sites with channels dedicated solely to Jays. I can join Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit discussions only relating to the Jays.

Literally, my whole life outside of work and family obligations could revolve around the Toronto Blue Jays. Or, if the Jays aren't your thing, you can substitute them with Marvel Comics. Or PlayStation games. Or Xbox games. Or DC Comics. Or international soccer. Or UFC. Or The Walking Dead. Or Game of Thrones. Or whatever your jam is, as they say.

Getting back around to the question I raised at the start of this post, or why I want to achieve certain collecting goals in 2019, I think has to do with this fragmentation of fandom. I've tried to chose certain cards of teams, players, or sets that have meaning to me within the context of what fandom I enjoy. A lot of it is based on nostalgia, for instance my nostalgia for the World Series Blue Jays teams, or for growing up watching Wayne Gretzky play hockey. I'm not sure if nostalgia is sustainable as a reason for collecting. Why I say that is that nostalgia is the idea of rejecting present conditions for a romantic view of the past. Yet, the past always stays in the past and present conditions are always evolving, to the point where today's conditions become tomorrow's nostalgia. I'm not sure what happens to yesterday's nostalgia.

I suppose I'd like to consider why I am so interested in nostalgia at this point in my life. I'm not sure if this is a stage that will pass and I will lose interest in the things I grew up with, or if childhood nostalgia will stay with me for life. Or, maybe there are worthy more worthy collecting pursuits that I have not considered for myself, or even other things I could do with my disposable income besides spending it on collectible nostalgia.

Why do you collect what you collect? What makes you choose to spend your money on cards when you could be spending it on other forms of entertainment? Or, what does collecting cards give you that other hobbies do not, so that you continue to pursue the hobby?


  1. For me it's simple. Three things:

    1. I'm OCD, so I like the sorting and organizing aspect of collecting.
    2. Fanfare. Enjoy supporting teams, players, countries, etc.
    3. Nostalgia. Collecting keeps me in touch with my childhood and adolescence.

  2. I really enjoyed this post as I feel the same way about the 'fragmentation' of hobbies over time. Like many, I have more interests than I can possibly keep up with while working and being a productive, responsible adult in our society.

    For me nostalgia is playing more and more of a role. The longer my experience in adult collecting goes on for, the less and less interested I am in modern cards and the more I'm drawn to cards of my youth or older.

    Another great post!

  3. I echo shoebox's second paragraph.